Prasar Bharati

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Saturday, May 9, 2020

A trip down memory lane with the voice of Indian radio cricket commentary - Part I

Noted Cricket Commentator Dr. Narottam Puri during an interview with The Hindu in New Delhi - SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA
Dr. Narottam Puri was immensely respected by the players, for he was always spot on even with tricky dismissals during days when the luxury of TV replays wasn't available.
He described the game as he saw it. And he saw it with the eyes of a keen student of the game, not missing out little details like a change in the field settings. He literally gave you a ring-side view. Dr. Narottam Puri’s mellifluous voice was an added attraction to follow cricket on the radio. Dr. Puri was immensely respected by the players and also young cricket journalists who would flock to hear his stories from the past. Many, like me, would confirm a dismissal from him because Dr. Puri was always spot on. “Missing leg, hit the bat, did not nick,” were simple responses that would guide us in tricky dismissals during days when the luxury of TV replays was not available. A reputed radio and television commentator, Dr. Puri conducted a popular quiz for Doordarshan for 18 years. He is currently involved as advisor with Fortis Healthcare and Indian Medical Academy.
Dr. Puri is not known to give interviews but he makes an exception for SPORTSTAR as he reflects on his cricket journey.

Q) Your earliest memories of cricket?
A) It’s always a pleasure interacting with you and a very happy coincidence that you called me on a day when I was just going through some of the old recordings of Don Bradman and the various greats of Australian cricket and just looking at YouTube because there's very little to do otherwise at home. Yes. I think radio commentary as you've described is not as popular today because of the availability of television. But let me just remind everyone that 1922 was the first ever radio broadcast of a cricket match. And it was for Charles Bannerman's Testimonial. That was the first time that radio was used to broadcast a cricket match. The commentator was a gentleman by the name of Lionell Watt. Five years later, the Essex vs. New Zealand game was broadcast and the commentator was former England player Plum Warner. And for some reason after that, BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) did not pursue it very actively.

Q) When did radio commentary make its debut in India?
A) 1934 is the first time that a match was broadcast in India, from Bombay Gymkhana. It was, I think, Pentangular or Quadrangular, between Muslims and Parsees and Bobby Talyarkhan was the commentator. My association with cricket commentary dates back to 1948 because my father was chosen as one of the commentators for India-West Indies series, and I believe I watched that match from my mother's lap. Obviously I have no memory of it, I was too young to remember it. But from then onwards, cricket and cricket commentary became kind of a dining room conversation for me, because my father played for India - one unofficial Test match and plenty of Ranji Trophy, Pentangulars, etc. - so cricket was in the family. My uncle (my father's younger brother) played Ranji Trophy too. And it was a kind of fodder for a young person's ear to always have cricket being discussed. And obviously, one started falling in love as one started playing it as well. And during those days, my father was still playing Ranji Trophy and he represented five states and then you got to meet a lot of cricketers who were greats of their own time because they were friends of my father and they dropped in at home and so was the case with some great commentators like Berry Sarbadhikari, Pearson Surita, and therefore, you know, my love for the sport continued to grow. The Hindu’s sports chief at that time was S. K. Gurunathan. Guru uncle, as we used to call him, was a frequent visitor to our house. And I think this love for cricket, the love for reading about it, writing about it, and describing it subconsciously entered some part of my brain and remained active.

Q) When did you get to hear commentary from close quarters?
A) When I got an opportunity to go with my dad to the All India Radio studios. Those days a lot of sports broadcasts used to take place. And they were 10 minute long. A lot of people will not know about the General Overseas Service, GOS, as it was called, it's broadcast outside India. And there were also sports broadcasts at primes slots like 9 pm. And therefore, one started learning how to control the number of words, within that time span that was available to you and to be able to express what you wanted to express within that time frame. Also the value of time, when to start, when to end. So I think these were important life lessons as well. And I guess I was lucky in being able to see this, watch this, hear this happen right in front of my eyes. And because of the fact that, I guess, I was always available in All India Radio during the sojourns that my dad made there.

Q) How did you get your break?
A) I guess an opportunity came when they were looking for a scorer. It was a London Schoolboys team visiting India and All India Radio was doing a broadcast of that match. I was booked as a scorer. So that was my first paycheck as a schoolboy. 15 rupees per day and also a great opportunity to watch a match from where I became very accustomed to watching. That is from the commentators’ box. It sort of grew and before I realized that I had got too deeply into it. I was good enough to play up to the university level, but being a medical guy, cricket those days used to be four and five day matches and cricket and my studies couldn't go hand in hand. So these opportunities I got gave me an chance to kind of stay connected to the game, even as a doctor, but I couldn't pursue it as a player beyond the university days. Of course, club cricket remained an active space for me. So the association has been there right throughout.

Q) What were your early lessons?
A) I think we had some really great broadcasters available. I will make a distinction between a broadcaster and a commentator. This broadcaster was usually somebody I would describe as Melville de Mello, Jasdev Singh. You know who would describe an event. But a commentator, particularly in the context of cricket, became what was rightly described by BBC as someone who did ball to ball commentary. So it wasn't storytelling. There were the odd commentators who were storytellers. But they were not ball-to-ball commentators.Q) What were your early lessons?

Q) Any example?
A) An example that comes to mind is Vizzy. Maharajkumar of Vizianagram. I spent a long time with him in the commentators box. He used to have his personal scorer, in addition to the scorer that All India Radio provided to the other commentators. The job of that scorer was to hand over a coin in the hand of Vizzy and the hand was always kept under the table. And he will put a coin into Vizzy’s hand and Vizzy will describe first of ball of the over and then he'll go into describing past events, etc, etc. Meanwhile, as the game is going on, and suddenly you got to know from a sentence like “Meanwhile, two wickets have fallen, 15 runs have been scored.” So that was that was one style of broadcasting. But BBC defined it as ball to ball commentary because it allowed the non spectator sitting miles away, to not only get the flavour, but to get an accurate description of how each ball was bowled - each delivery was defended or the ball was stroked away, where the fielder was. Therefore, I would make this distinction between a broadcaster and ball to ball commentator.

Q) The attributes of a good radio commentator?
A) The ball-to-ball commentator needed to have at least three major attributes. One was an ability, through his words, to create a picture through the use of his words. There was no television. The second was the ability to have a command over the language because you couldn't be doing commentary and be searching for words. Therefore, you had to have that fluency of expression. And the third was a decent knowledge of the game. Because cricket is a highly technical sport. You can get away with lesser knowledge in some games as a ball-to-ball describer. In some games, you cannot do a ball-to-ball commentary. For example, table tennis. It is just too fast. And having had some experience of doing radio commentary in table tennis, I can tell you it's impossible to do a ball-to-ball. But cricket is ideally suited to have this ball-to-ball description. And I think this was one of the great things that happened as a learning that if you had these three attributes of knowledge of the game, command over the language and an ability to create a picture through your words, you could be a good commentator, or a good ball-to-ball describer. That was not necessarily true when I migrated to television because the picture was already there. Then the principles changed.

Q) You once told me how you would smuggle in the transistor during classes..
A) Those days transistors were relatively new. Initially they were very large, so you couldn't kind of smuggle them. Then they became smaller and smaller. And it was possible to put it in your coat pocket, lie down at the back of the class and put the transistor to your ear because those days there were no ear phones. And I'm talking of 60s. So I was in a medical college and then important matches were going on which one couldn't miss. And there was no television. I remember one tennis match particularly in which I missed the entire lecture. And that was India versus Brazil.
Ramanathan Krishnan came back from two sets down and next day he beat Thomas Koch in five sets. These are memories that are etched in a part of my brain, all thanks to the description by the radio broadcasters and commentators who brought it home to us.
For several years, all these games were dominated by English commentators; tea stalls would have blackboards displaying scoreboards and radios blaring where people would be gathered outside cinema halls or in parks to listen to the matches.
I think what really took the game of cricket from streets and lawns into the house was the use of regional and Hindi language commentaries. The game really spread deeper and deeper inside the homes because of language.

Source and Credit :-
Forwarded by :- Shri. Jhavendra Kumar Dhruw.

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